Accusations from recently fired bar bouncer Michael Reeves against his former employer, the Slidebar, drew a handful of protesters Tuesday, June 12, accusing the restaurant of setting into motion the chain of events that led to the beating death of Kelly Thomas at the hands of Fullerton police officers. Two of them are now on trial for the murder. Vikki Vargas reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on June 12, 2012.
A handful of protesters gathered outside Fullerton restaurant "Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen" on Tuesday following allegations that the restaurant's management had attempted to cover up its involvement with the brutal police beating of Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old homeless man who died last July five days after the confrontation.
The protest was prompted by a $16 million wrongful termination suit filed last Friday by former Slidebar employee Michael Reeves against restaurant owner Jeremy Popoff.
Popoff had allegedly implemented a "no-homeless-people policy" around Slidebar and asked Slidebar manager Jeanette DeMarco to call the police and "do anything necessary to get Kelly Thomas away from Slidebar," according to the complaint.
"As a former rock star in the pop band 'Lit,' Jeremy Popoff was obsessed with Slidebar's image and how it reflected on his own image as the owner and face of Slidebar," the lawsuit stated. "Homeless people had no place in the image Jeremy Popoff wanted for Slidebar."
On July 5, 2011, under Popoff's orders, DeMarco called the Fullerton police dispatcher and claimed that "Kelly Thomas is in the parking lot breaking into cars," according to the suit.
Thomas was later beaten into a coma by police officers responding to the scene. He was pronounced dead five days later on July 10.
Special Section: The Kelly Thomas Case
Slidebar's managers initially reported Thomas only for loitering, the lawsuit documents stated, but Popoff was allegedly unsatisfied with police response to the incidents. According to the documents, a single police car would arrive 30 minutes later and ask Thomas to "move along" -- but Thomas would return soon after.
As a result, Popoff then allegedly told his managers to "do whatever it takes to keep Kelly Thomas away."
Reeves, a bouncer at Slidebar who was working the front door the night of the confrontation, said in the lawsuit that he saw DeMarco falsely tell police dispatchers that Thomas was breaking into cars.
Reeves said that after he heard DeMarco allegedly give police a false report, he told her what she had just done was wrong, according to the suit.
Reeves was fired for "insubordination" and "violating company policy" on Sept. 23, 2011 -- two days after the Orange County District Attorney announced he had filed criminal charges against two Fullerton police officers for Thomas' beating.
Officer Manuel Ramos faces one felony count of second-degree murder and one of involuntary manslaughter, and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli is charged with one felony count of involuntary manslaughter and one for excessive force.
Reeves claims in his lawsuit that he was fired from his job when he refused to adopt Slidebar's mantra: "Slidebar had nothing to do with Kelly Thomas' death." Reeves said managers pressured him to go along with the story.
Popoff told reporters at a Tuesday news conference in the restaurant that he was not at Slidebar that night, adding that he could not get into specifics about the situation because it was a criminal case.
Still, Popoff reflected on Thomas' death, saying that he knew Thomas and let him sleep on the restaurant's patio while it was under construction.
"It happened to a human being, a member of this community," Popoff said. "My heart was broken. It's a horrible, horrible thing."
In addition, Popoff said it was important to recognize that Reeves had been written up prior to being fired and was likely upset by his termination.
Though active before in demanding justice for his son's death, Ron Thomas said at the protest that he had "kind of a reserved opinion on the issue." He wanted to wait to see how the lawsuit would be settled, he added.
"It isn't clear if there really was an illegal 911 call made," he said in an interview with NBC4. "I understand that there's a problem between the homeless and the businesses down here, [and] I understand that they might want to get rid of them. But I wouldn't understand making a false police report that led to what happened here."